That’s why the Mavs were so aggressive in exploring the small-forward market in the first day of free agency.
LeBron James would obviously top the Mavs’ list if he looked to leave Miami, but the belief is he’ll be back with the Heat next season. The Mavs have registered interest in at least seven other small forwards who started last season.
The Plan B group consists of four players who are likely to sign contracts with starting salaries between $8 million and $12 million. The small forwards in the Plan C group are projected to land in the neighborhood of $3 million to $5 million. In either case, the Mavs would have cap room to make moves other than filling the starting spot at small forward.
Chandler Parsons: The 6-foot-9 Parsons can knock down 3s, create off the dribble, averaged 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists as a 25-year-old last season and is pals with Dirk Nowitzki. He’s pretty close to a perfect fit, at least offensively.
Dallas, we have one huge problem: Parsons is a restricted free agent, meaning the Rockets have the right match any offer. If Anthony chooses the Rockets, maybe Houston declines to match a big offer for Parsons, but those two would be compatible in an offensive system that wants its power forwards to be perimeter threats.
It’s probable that Parsons will make eight figures next season after being a six-figure bargain as a second-round pick the last few seasons. The Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics, Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns are among the teams reported to have shown interest.
Gordon Hayward: The 24-year-old Hayward has a lot of similarities to Parsons – a young player who has a versatile offensive game (16.2 ppg, 5.2 apg last season) and is a restricted free agent. All indications coming out of Utah are that the Jazz plan on exercising their right to match any offer that Hayward receives.
But the Mavs might call the Jazz’s bluff. Hayward’s suitors reportedly include the Cleveland Cavaliers, Suns and Celtics, where he could reunite with college coach Brad Stevens.
Trevor Ariza: The 6-foot-8 Ariza is set to cash in after having a career year in a contract year at the age of 28. The Washington Wizards are determined to keep him their 3-and-D guy after Ariza averaged 14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds while defending the opponent’s best wing scorer all season, playing a key role in the franchise winning a playoff series for only the second time in three decades.
While most of the market at this position will wait for Anthony to make his decision, the Wizards are trying to lock up Ariza as soon as possible after giving center Marcin Gortat a five-year, $60 million deal to stay in Washington. Ariza’s other suitors include the Suns, Lakers, Heat, Jazz, Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers.
Luol Deng: There is a large difference between Deng’s asking price and the Mavs’ perceived value of him, but that was the case with Monta Ellis at this point last summer. The parties meeting somewhere in the middle is certainly possible if Deng’s other suitors don’t step up.
Deng would likely be the Mavs’ last choice out of this tier for two reasons. He’s a below-average 3-point shooter (32.9 percent for his career), which is particularly concerning for a team that has a subpar perimeter-shooting backcourt. Perhaps more importantly, there are significant concerns about his durability after he played heavy minutes for years in Chicago and has missed double-digit games in five of the last seven seasons.
The Bulls, Lakers, Heat, Clippers and Hawks are among the teams to express interest in the 6-foot-9 Deng, an outstanding defender who has averaged 16.0 points and 6.3 rebounds during his career.
Shawn Marion: The Mavs aren’t going to get Marion, who played such a critical role on their 2011 title team, to take a discount deal after aggressively trying to replace him in the starting lineup.
Marion would be a great fit as retired Shane Battier’s replacement in Miami, and there’s a strong feeling that he ends up chasing another ring as part of King James’ supporting cast. It’s doubtful that Marion, the Mavs’ best defender during his five-year tenure and leading rebounder the last few seasons, returns to Dallas unless he’s a starter again.
Paul Pierce: At 36, he’s no longer one of the premier wing players in the league, but Pierce can still play. He averaged 13.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists in his first season with the Brooklyn Nets, who hope to keep him.
Doc Rivers, the coach of Pierce’s championship team in Boston, is attempting to convince the future Hall of Famer to join him in L.A. The Bulls, Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies have also put out feelers for Pierce.
Al-Farouq Aminu: He’s a freakishly athletic, 6-foot-9, 23-year-old former lottery pick project who would look much better coming off the bench than in the starting lineup for a playoff team. His poor perimeter shooting is a major concern, but Aminu has the tools to be a terrific defender and rebounder for a small forward and might be ready to take off in the right system.